Changing of the Guard

My job is stressful.

Let me rephrase that: my job is one of the most challenging, frustrating and draining things I have ever engaged in.

For those that don’t know (and to myself ten years from now if you forget what you used to do and are now looking back; hi future me!) I work at a group home for the chronically impaired mentally ill. This means primarily the inability to live on one’s own due to severe disorders such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective, bipolar, PTSD and various others.

My goal, as the Senior Residential Technician, is to work alongside the part-time technicians and the Rehabilitation Specialists to teach our clients life skills. These include, but are not limited to; cooking, cleaning, personal hygiene, legal services, medical services, coping and learning to enjoy life again. In summary, I work with up to ten grown adults at any given time, doing my best to teach them how to live life well. Fitting, no?

Here I am at only 23 years of age, feeling a lot like Moses some days. “Who am I” that I should teach these men and women, most of whom have lived much longer than I, how to live their lives well? In all reality, I’m still trying to figure it out myself. Life is hard, even without a debilitating mental disorder. It truly is only by the grace of God that I am able to stand and lead these people through something I myself don’t yet fully understand.

I’d like to rephrase once again, without discounting my previous assessment: my job is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. I have learned so much in the seven months since I started at Hoosier House. I have learned not only about mental health and the stigmas associated with mental disorders, but also about myself and many characteristics which I believe God wants to hone in me.

Leadership. Patience. Love. Time Management. Kindness. Work Ethic. 

The list goes on. Point is, the hardest things are often the most rewarding, and often times God will put us between the hammer and the anvil in order to strengthen us. No amount of college could have prepared me for the amount I have learned working with the “mentally ill,” who have in many regards taught me as much about life as I’d like to hope that I have taught them. And to think, I had no intention of using my psychology degree when I moved to this place.

This job hasn’t only been rewarding in the way of unexpected personal growth and life lessons. My clients, the word we use instead of “patients,” have been amazing at expressing their gratitude for me. This is something else that I never expected, but am myself very grateful for.

One young man, we’ll call him Birch, recently expressed to me that he is so grateful that I came to work with him. He stated the words that I feel may be hyperbole but appreciate nonetheless: “I don’t think I would still be here without you. So thank you Brady. Thank you so much for all that you do.”

Another, Elm, encouraged me the other night while sitting around the dinner table with most of the house. He told me about the division in the house between clients and staff before my arrival, stating that they only saw staff members for chores and designated outing times. He called my arrival at the house the “changing of the guard,” and spoke to what a difference I have made for him and the entire house.

These words broke my heart and encouraged it all at the same time. This may have been the moment that I truly began to understand how much God is able to use me even despite my flaws, lack of life experience and lack of intention to even consider working in a place like this.

While I don’t believe that this is where I will be long-term, I am definitely seeing the fruit of my being where I am right now, and I am enjoying the sting of that refining hammer. As written in Esther, I am encouraged by these words that have become so central to my girlfriend;”For who knows if you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”

Much Love & Many Blessings my friends,

Brady J. L. Smith

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Another Man’s Treasure

As it turns out, I am not very great at listening to my own advice. I wrote about A Simple Warning not too long ago, and against all the logic in that post I simply could not resist going against the very wisdom I had provided.

About a week ago, Katherine and I went “hiking” in the woods behind our apartment complex. I lace that with quotations because while there are a few moderate inclines, it is primarily flat and pretty wide open back there. I should really just call it what it is and say we went for a walk, but I strive for extraordinary!

I digress.

As we walked along, we happened upon a path which neither of us had ever seen nor walked. The head of the path was no longer apparent and we found it by a bit of luck. And I am so glad we did. This was by far one of the most beautiful of the trails back there. The foliage had time to grow in nice and thick around the trail, and almost the entire way we were able to spot wildflowers of varying size and color. Downed trees from recent storms gave the trek some substance, and a few small bridges over the bubbling brook that ran through the woods were great places to sit, breathe and just be.

Midway through the walk, I spotted a red mass about 100 yards off the path. I let her know my intentions, and then darted towards this potential treasure. Lo and behold, we had discovered a tent that had clearly been abandoned there for quite some time. As we approached, we stopped and listened for the sound of any porpoises. When we were certain that this tent was devoid any marine life, we drew nearer the target.

If you’re reading this, your first thought may be that what I’m about to say involves the theft of someone’s home, but I assure you that this is most undoubtedly not the case. Rusty poles broken and canvas tattered, this tent had no life left in it, except the multitude of spiders, worms, gnats and other creepy crawlies now inhabiting it. If anyone had lived here, they were long gone by now.

In addition to the wildlife that now populated this derelict camping equipment, we dug out a handful of old goodies that suggest this may have been a tent of meeting – and I don’t mean the biblical kind. Using the broken tent poles as giant chopsticks, I pulled out a moldy old blanket, bottles of vodka and Kroger brand orange soda, a pack of old waterlogged cigarettes and some sweatpants never again suitable for human use.

Changing my use of my giant chopsticks, I twirled the remains of the canvas around and around akin to the way I use a fork to eat spaghetti. I hoisted it over my should, ensuring that no part of this mess touched myself or my girl, and began the trek home. I may actually attach some photos this blog for the first time to show how ridiculous I looked.

After a lot of laughter, a couple of stops, and some much needed time with my favorite girl, I arrived back home. I set my prize out on the back deck so that the coming rainstorms might pre-wash the fabric for me. The next step is put it through the washer and dryer, and then Katherine plans to sew up the holes to see if we can breathe new life into this old tent.

Updates to come when this is all completed. Hopefully I will be out camping sooner than originally planned, and for a fraction of the cost!

Much Love and Many Blessings friends,

Brady J. L. Smith